Tax board makeover should speed appeals

info@islandpacket.comMay 28, 2013 

Beaufort County was smart to revamp its tax appeals board ahead of this year's property reassessment notices.

We only wished county officials had done it much sooner.

An expanded Tax Equalization Board should help clear a backlog of nearly 200 appeals already in the works and put it on sounder footing to handle reassessment appeals.

Nearly 14,600 appeals followed the 2009 reassessment.

Many disputes are resolved by the Assessor's Office, but those that aren't end up with the tax board, which has the authority under state law to change valuations.

Two factors came together to slow, then halt, the board's operations in February: The current board has only four of seven members, making it difficult to reach a quorum to be able to conduct business, and it lost its lone staff support person.

Even when operating, it only heard four cases at a time and met no more than twice a month.

The new board will have 15 members, with one member each from the 11 County Council districts. Two members each from northern and southern Beaufort County will serve at-large.

What should move cases along much more quickly is that the 15-member board is expected to split into three, five-member subcommittees, which would only need three members present for a quorum.

Next, the county should line up someone to replace the part-time help the board lost. That county-paid employee also worked for the county's Legislative Delegation.

The position has been filled, but the person is working solely for the delegation and not the tax board.

It makes sense, especially in a reassessment year, to have an employee dedicated to the tax board. And the workload has increased since the state exempted owner- occupied homes from paying property taxes for school operations. The number of appeals jumped as people tried to claim their homes as owner-occupied.

Since 2009, the county has received about 27,000 appeals, a third of which resulted in adjustments.

Owners have to pay their taxes even while disputing their assessments, so it's important -- and fair -- to resolve these issues as quickly as possible.

These changes should help do that.

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